Walking from Pisa to Florence: An alternative lads holiday. Part 2.

Last time we kicked off our lads holiday in style with a big night out, needless to say come the end of our first day’s walk we were more than ready for bed, we dozed off safe in the knowledge that the next day we would have clearer heads, and sure enough we woke up ready and raring to see more of what this beautiful part of Tuscany had to offer.

If you missed part one, it is available here – Part 1.

Day 4

Up early again, this time in a much more ready-to-rock state. Breakfast at the villa was plentiful, and we still had that left over pizza from our meal the night before. We had decided to go to Empoli on the way to our next villa, but via San Miniato; with a little research before we left I could see it was a must. We knew that this morning’s walk was going to be a long slog next to a big straight road so we set off as early as possible. The first few 1km took us past houses, roadside shops and then eventually the odd block of industrial units set into the countryside. Wedged somewhere between the train line and the river, this particular part of the trek saw us march along the main industrial route through Tuscany. After a good hour’s walk along SP2, occasionally catching glimpses of the beautiful River Arno and the surrounding countryside through buildings and farmland, we come across Ponte Alla Novetta. This is where we meet the river and SP5, our road of choice for the next 11km or so. We occasionally stopped to turn and watch the mountains we’d climbed yesterday disappear behind us. Soon enough we were in Castelfranco Di Sotto, where we cross the river for the first  time to join SP6. A quick drinks stop and we were on the last stretch of our morning walk, 10km to San Miniato.Just around the next corner we see a tower on top of a hill, protruding majestically from the huge flat basin by which we were currently enveloped. At least now we had something to walk towards. We really picked up pace despite the obvious rubs and aches. I was surprised by how well my chicken legs had held out on this walk, amazing that such spindly things can hold the weight of my torso and pack so well. As SP6 ran into SS67 in Ponte a Egola we knew we must be just about ready to climb. We turn right into via catena and there it is; a very steep, very windy piece of road. We arrived at the foot of the hilltop town at about 1pm, fully exposed to the mid-day sun. We powered up the winding hill, the whole time thinking to ourselves, “it’ll be just over the next hill”. Rolling hillside olive groves strewed the landscape. It was the kind of view that would excite me into getting myself an olive tree on my return home. The pretty villas ignited dreams of one day owning something out here. This is why I love Italy.

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We finally got to the top to find a huge brick arch which led into the palatial Piazza Della Repubblica. To the left another, smaller arch with steps that led to the Piazza Del Duomo. Everything here feels like something you’d find in a Disney movie. As we look up to the Tower Of Frederick, built by Frederick II in the 13th century and rebuilt in 1958 after the war, we know this is going to give us the best view of the Arno Valley. The large flat outcrop at the top of the hill that plays host to the tower had stunning 360′ views that felt like they went on forever. You could see our entire day’s walk in a snapshot. As our excitement settled we headed back down the hill and past the Duomo to a cafe, Bar Cantini, that we’d spotted earlier. Sure enough, at the back of the cosy restaurant area was a huge window and balcony with more sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside, looking down over a few small allotments. The spoken English of the staff wasn’t much help, so my efforts in Italian would have to do; we are in Italy after all! We managed to order everything just fine, and even get some information about the best route out of the city. I could feel my confidence with the language booming and after what was one of the best platters of cheese and meat I’d ever eaten, we left to the sound of the female staff crying “Ciao ragazzi, buon viaggio”. Obviously the staff were appreciative of our communicative efforts.

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With advice on the best way out of the city in hand we headed for Empoli, the last stop of the day. Only 10km to go. We walked another spiraling hill path down towards the SS67 which would be our route for the rest of todays journey. We managed to make it to Empoli in good time and we spent a short while checking out the historical centre, taking in Piazza Farinata degli Uberti to see the Collegiata di Sant’Andrea, the main place of worship in Empoli. It was a huge walk today and we had all decided before we left the UK that we would get a taxi from Empoli to our next villa, Agriturismo Tenuta Cantagallo. After a 15 minute cab ride we arrived at a beautiful villa with pool, overlooking a beautiful hillside olive grove and vineyard with views of Capraia and Montelupo Fiorentino. We were greeted with a very warm welcome, the villa was clean and tidy with decent enough facilities but when we sat on the balcony area overlooking the pool, I don’t think any of us would have minded if we were stopping in a tent.

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Once the next overwhelming view of the trip had sunk in, it dawned on us we were in the middle of the countryside with cooking facilities and no food. We were so tired we’d not considered that we may need to eat. At this point we had to accept that we were going to have to take the 3km trek into nearby Montelupo Fiorentino, which had a few restaurants and a Coop supermarket. At least we didn’t need to take our packs. We actually quite enjoyed the walk, pack free and downhill. We saw a nice looking seafood restaurant called Osteria Livornese and asked what time they open. “Alle otto”, the man sitting outside said, slightly confused by the sight of four dishevelled English boys in boots and shorts. So it was decided, seafood at 8, and we headed to the supermarket to grab ourselves some supplies for the morning. When we got back to the restaurant at 8, a slightly worried looking waitress sat us in a corner and claimed to not speak any English. I went completely brave and ordered the Tuscan fish stew, Toby ordered something, I’m not sure he knew what it was, he’d been given an array of shellfish, including shrimp, with no idea how to get into them, and no way of asking. Luckily between us we figured it out and the meal was not lost. My Tuscan stew arrived, along with Matt’s and we were presented with bibs, “Is this just because we’re English” I asked in Italian and the young woman laughed, “no it’s just messy” she replied. I felt like this was the icebreaker for us, all of the staff were much warmer once they could see we were making an effort. The stew was unbelievable, if you’d have told me 3 years ago that I’d be sat in a restaurant in Tuscany chowing down on big thick squid tentacles, I’d have thought you mad. This really was the best fish dish I had eaten. If you are ever in this part of Italy, this restaurant is worth a trip out for. We were blown away, but maybe if you do visit, go for smart casual dress, as opposed to our smelly hiking lads holiday attire. After paying our bill and being brought an entire bottle of limoncello to drink between the 4 of us, we headed to our beds. It had been a long couple of days and there was still another left.

Day 5.

As the sun rose over the valley on what was to be our last day of walking, we prepared the breakfast we had bought the previous evening and headed into Montelupo to re-stock on water and supplies. We grabbed a coffee in Cioccolato 23, a lovely little chocolate shop, bought all of the chilled water they had, picked up a couple of cans of San Pellegrino, my favourite soft drink, and headed for Lastra A Signa, it looked like a pretty town and was about half way to Florence. We found our way to SP73, up and over a large hill towards the small town of Malmantile. We were really glad we chose this road; the other route we could have taken seemed to be mostly major roads. This way was probably more challenging thanks to the rather large hill, however, it made for excellent views of the surrounding hillsides. Yet more olive groves rolled down the hills on either side, with the impressively straight vineyards creating an almost mathematical pattern.

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We had been walking for just over an hour when we turned left down Via Scoriatoia which quickly went from a road, to a farm track, to a footpath. After passing farm buildings and small holdings on this quiet and pretty path, we hit SP72 straight to Lastra A Signa. Another 4km down the fairly busy road and we had made our half way point for the day just before lunch. We walked through the fantastic archway in a medieval stone tower towards Piazza Garibaldi where we stopped for coffee and some lunch in the lovely local Caffe Letterario Voltapagina. We were all starting to feel the walk now. Blisters were forming, legs aching, but we were so close. This was the final stretch, we got ourselves motivated and went for it. Here goes the last 12km.

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The last part of our journey was to be our hardest. As our sat nav was trying to take us along some very main roads we used Maps Me once again to find a more walker friendly route. We headed out of Lastra a Signa past the Scuola Primeria S Maria a Castagnolo down Via a Gramisci. I particularly loved the country lanes with the warm sun beating down on us, perhaps this is how wonderful a walk in Devon could be if it didn’t rain 350 days of the year. We followed our route through the underpass of a main road and turned right onto a foot path that ran parallel to the side of a dried up canal along the edge of the city suburbs. The juxtaposition of the warehouses, lorry depots and factories on our left and the dry canal and countryside on our right was quite something. Pulling our gaze upwards from the golden sun-dried grass of the hillside was the Scuola Superiore della Magistratura which is housed within the walls of Villa Castel Pulci. Its light rectangular facade with a raised middle section is topped with ornamental spikes and can been seen across a huge section of the Arno valley. The foot path ended and met Via di Casellina. It was all paved city roads from here. We followed the route until in the distance we saw it, the border sign for Firenze. The golden selfie we had walked so far to get was mere metres away. We revelled in the moment, we had made it.

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Unfortunately we were still some distance from Villa Il Mosaico, which was to be our final resting place on this trip. By this point we were close to broken, but we rallied at the last and powered down the streets which became gradually more built up and overlooked, occasionally breaking into a light jog we stormed the last few km until we collapsed with an epic sense of joy and achievement at the door of our villa. As I stepped inside we were met with a smile, “you must be the boys that walked here from Pisa” said our rather amused hostess, her colleague looked up from his desk shocked “are you mad”, we must be I replied with a smile beaming across my face. We were shown around our cosy little villa. It was modern and tidy, its cold tiled floor and stone walls were a welcome respite for our tired feet.

We gathered ourselves, showered, changed into pumps and trainers and figured out what public transport we would need to get to the centre of the city. We were filled with a childish glee; we had all seen the pictures and were excited to embrace the chaotic crowds that would undoubtedly surround the Duomo. Only slightly rested we gathered ourselves and took comfort in the fact that our nearest tram stop was only a few minutes’ walk from our villa. We boarded the tram and as we approached the Piazza Del Duomo we could hear the murmur of a growing crowd alongside the glimpses of the huge terracotta roof of the Duomo poking through gaps in the tall buildings. We stepped into a busy square where we got the full view of the Duomo, with its white, green and pink marble facade glistening in the slowly lowering sun, it was truly a spectacle to behold.

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Filled with emotion we circled the incredible Gothic structure topped with the largest brick dome ever constructed. Hobbling around the place like four one hundred year old men, we peeled ourselves away and went in search of the river, and more importantly the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge lined with shops, originally butchers but after the Vassari corridor was built-in 1565 to give the Grand Duke safe passage from his residence to the government palace, the butchers were evicted and slowly replaced by goldsmiths and jewellers. The block-like make-up of the exterior of the bridge looks like Lego from a distance, painted in various shades of yellow and off white. The buildings on the bridge are tied oddly into the buildings at one end, with only a small raised corridor, the Vassari Corridor, connecting it at the other. Looking straight up the middle of the bridge, you are almost blinded by the glistening windows lined almost exclusively with gold and diamonds; it’s clear that the once working class butchers row of this bridge have long since been erased. We crossed the bridge and headed for Forte Di Belvadere, from here you get a panoramic of the entire city. We sat on a wall at the top overlooking the city, the sun was setting and we turned to each other, agreeing in unison, no more hills!

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With our mission well and truly accomplished we rolled back down the hill towards the city centre in search of a famous Florentine steak. The last supper on our trip was going to be a good one. Keeping our eyes peeled, we stumbled past Osteria del Proconsolo and liked what we saw. We ordered one huge steak between us, with a few sides, it came out sizzling and succulent, the flavours were to die for. Once we’d finished we were brought a bottle of limocello to share. Supping on the sharp lemon sherbert-like liquer, surrounded by the warm rhythmic chatter of local people engrossed in every day conversation, we sat in silence for a few minutes to enjoy where we were. We knew that tomorrow we’d be heading home. As lads holidays go, this truly was a different one. We returned to our villa and dosed off to the slightly disturbing soundtrack of the couple next door’s romantic weekend away.

Day 6. The last morning.

We awoke to the same beat of the creaking bed next door, unable to tell whether they had even stopped for sleep. We got up and out nice and quickly in order to see the Duomo one more time and to visit the Pallazo Vecchio. Another short walk to jump on the tram for the last time, packed and ready for home, we passed the Duomo and stopped at a chocolate shop we’d seen the night before, after all, what kind of lads holiday would it be if we didn’t return with gifts for our other halves. Venchi houses an impressive molten chocolate wall, the stream of chocolate created a continuous waterfall over the wall. Having chosen our gifts we made for the Pallazo Vecchio. I really liked the mix of the old and new statues on the square, the fountain of Neptune, with bronze figures at the base and marble horses emerging from a bronze river, stands proud at the front of the palace. The palace itself is much like what we would consider a typical castle, a large stone building with small arch windows topped with turrets, a slender clock tower protrudes out of the roof at one end.

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With time drawing to a close we had to accept that our epic journey had come to an end. We headed back to the train station and did our journey in reverse, this time in under an hour by train. It was nice to zoom past some of the places we had walked. We had achieved what we came here to do, walk from Pisa to Florence, just because we could. We’d experienced some of Italy that we would have never seen by car or train, and of course, managed to get together a few guys that have totally different lives, but ten years after leaving school, still just love hanging out. What a journey! To my friends; Darren, Toby and Matt, thanks lads.

Walking from Pisa to Florence: An alternative lads holiday. Part 1.

Having a September birthday comes with some great travel bonuses. The school holidays are over, flights are coming down in price but the weather is still reasonable. With this and the realisation that it has been 10 years since me and my oldest friends left school, I thought it was time to have my first lads holiday abroad. It seems like a right of passage that at some point in your years as a young adult you have a good old lads holiday. So, which destination would I choose, Magaluf? Zante? Ibiza? No. Not a chance! We’re going to walk from Pisa to Florence in Tuscany. Why? No idea, but flights to Pisa are cheap as chips and we all love walking, so why not?

I spent around a month planning our lads getaway and even managed to organise a few villas to stay in, at sensible intervals of course. Our itinerary allowed us to arrive late on Saturday and return on Thursday afternoon giving us 3 full days in which to walk around 100km.

Day 1

My buddy Darren picked me up at 10.30 to make the 4-hour trip to London Luton Airport. We were both super excited, but as we headed up the M5, a text came through: our flight was delayed by 2.5 hours. Unfortunately after a nightmare time at the airport we were informed that the flight was cancelled. Not really the start we wanted but at least the airline put us up in a hotel for the night.

Day 2

We woke up the next morning eager to fly. After finally making it to the plane, and a few of my favourite Aperol Spritz later, we arrived and were ready for our first walk. We were excited to be in Italy. Yes, we’d done plenty of walking and camping together before, but never somewhere like this. Our journey started from the airport to Camping Village Torre Pendente, via The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Leaving the airport we crossed the river Arno and headed for the tower. We didn’t know what to expect but as we walked onto the Piazza Del Duomo we were taken aback. It was bigger than we had all imagined, and the angle of the tower was much more severe. Sometimes when you see a famous structure you have a bit of an “is that it” reaction, but not here. The gargantuan white marble tower protruded out of the ground at an impressive 4 degrees, which doesn’t sound much, but it’s really quite impressive, each floor layered on top of the next like a wedding cake, complete with columns and archways. The top section is the smallest and proudly bares the red flag of Pisa, with its ornate white cross in the centre. We soaked up the sight of this magnificent tower and then made way to our first accommodation, just a 10 minute walk away. We checked into our love shack, and headed straight out to see the sights of Pisa.

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After a little sight seeing around the Duomo area, we realised we were more than ready for a drink, so we headed down a few streets past the Piazza dei Cavalieri to get the night started. Having stopped for cash on Piazza S Felice (I always use my WeSwap card abroad) we found a busy bar close by. Gramigna was buzzing with young Italian speakers, a good selection of beers we’d never heard of and a bar filled with a huge selection of Italian treats. We found ourselves a table and chose our beers. “Quanto costa” I ask with a terrible Italian accent whilst pointing optimistically at the food on the bar, “Gratuita”, the lady behind the bar replied. Free food? This was fantastic! We had another drink and then began to help ourselves. After a third drink, an Aperol Spritz of course, and with plenty of food in our bellies, we decided that dinner was far from necessary, so it was time to explore a little further.

After asking for directions to another good bar, some guys outside pointed us in the direction of Piazza Garibaldi on the river front. When we got there, we took a seat outside Bazeel. We had great views of the river and nearby bridge from where we sat. The bar had yet another nice spread of food so we indulged some more whilst having another beer. The night had begun to take a turn, instead of going out, it appeared that we were in fact “Out” out and from this point on I will recall our experience to the best of my ability.

We walked to a nearby bar called Las Volta. We were merry enough to engage in conversation with some of the locals, without too much inhibition. It was a good chance to practice my Italian free from the nervousness of sobriety. We became friendly with group of guys who offered us a drink: a drink of their choice. The drink in question was Negroni; a bitter affair that none of us could get to grips with, but we drank it none the less. Next round was on us, and a tradition we started just a few years ago in the highlands of Scotland meant that we never had a gathering without downing a good few shots of Zubrowka. We lined up enough shots for everyone, and took our first and last drunk photo of the holiday, before guzzling down the fiery liquid in one.

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The drinking didn’t stop there. Andrea, one of our new-found friends, shouted, “who’s brave” as we were handed an enormous shot of mixed, layered alcohol in a tall skull shaped shot glass. Me being me I took the shot in one! I knew immediately that this was a terrible decision by the reactions of our Italian counterparts. Next thing we knew we were back on Piazza dei Cavalieri. I could hear Toby walking around repeating “Parlo Inglesse” (meaning “I speak English”), I’m sure they know that already mate!

After an excellent night and having made some new friends, we all parted ways at about 2am. The sobering 15-minute walk back to where we were staying came with the horrific realisation we were getting up to walk a mountain in 5 hours. Well done us. We went to sleep after drinking copious amounts of water. Please, please let me wake up without a hangover. Only sleep could save me now.

Day 3

The 7am alarm goes off and I shakily emerge to find the boys still sound asleep. I found my glass and downed another pint of water followed by a vitamin C tablet. I wasn’t well! I dragged myself into the shower where I proceeded to dry wretch to an eruption of laughter from the guys in the next room. Holding all my water down and feeling refreshed we all manage to gather ourselves. Somehow we were packed, ready and stable enough to start walking by 8.30am.

We walked back towards the tower via a trusty Pam supermarket where we bought some breakfast and plenty to drink. We knew this would be the only big night out we were going to have on the trip so we soldiered on, once again admiring the Duomo and Tower as we trundled past, heads down like naughty children.

We headed for Certosa Di Pisa just on the edge of Calci. We wound up walking along via Giuseppe Perini, an easy road to follow thanks to the massive stone arches that run along the street. We met SP2 which would be our route for a couple of hours. As the heat of the sun intensified we all felt relaxed, smiles on our faces, just enjoying the walk. We stopped at a cafe on the outskirts of Pisa for coffee, some focaccia and to stock up on water before heading out again. The fresh coffee here is like nothing else in the world. The enticing aroma of espresso fills the air outside every shop and cafe, making it a real haven for coffee lovers everywhere. The heat was sweating out our remaining hangovers and the water flushing it through. We continued our march at a steady pace as the buildings began to thin out into more open countryside. We could see for miles thanks to the dried up basin Pisa sits so neatly into.

After a short while we stumbled across a beautiful little gelatoria, Io e Gelato, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In need of some sugar, and being partial to a pistachio gelato we took the opportunity for a quick pit stop. The view of the approaching mountains was beautiful. Giant rugged structures of green and grey with Italy’s trademark stripes created by the many vinyards that line the slopes. We decided that up and over was the best bet. After a few moments savouring what remained the smoothest, creamiest and most authentically pistachio flavoured gelato we would eat on the whole walk, we were on the move again.

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We were excited as we approached Calci. It was a pretty little town with a stunning church and bell tower. There were pomegranates growing in the gardens, decorating the trees much like apples back home. It was our first taste of the Italian country town with olive trees and grape vines galore. It gave me a tingle, that same feeling that made me fall in love with Italy and travelling in general when I first saw the Colosseum in Rome back in 2013. As the path got less road-like and more track-like we approached the monastery. We already knew it would be closed to the public, but having emailed ahead, in Italian of course, we were permitted into the main courtyard to have a look at the buildings. We stood in awe for a few minutes, thanked the women that let us take a look and headed to the gate.

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This being the kind of holiday it was we didn’t really have a steadfast plan; yes we had a physical map and a compass, all of the recommended walking and safety gear, but this is 2016 and phones are excellent. Using an app, Maps.Me, on his phone Matt pulled up the footpaths over the mountain. Following the red and white flags and putting a lot of faith in an app, we made our ascent. We chose the 13km option to the centre Vicopisano where we were staying. As we looked back, it was amazing to see the sweeping vistas across the valley and in the distance, just poking out of the top of what was the entire city of Pisa was the Leaning Tower. A wave of achievement engulfed us all as we looked back at how far we’d already walked, which spurred us on to get to the top.

As we made our way into the cover of the trees we caught a brief glimpse of a soaring eagle. We’d been able to hear it for a while but sadly that fleeting moment was all we were treated to.

We continued up and after a couple of hours surfaced near the Rocca Della Verruca. The views were incredible from this plateau and we were able to look up at the ruins before us.

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Thankfully, it was all down hill from here, the last 7km into Vicopisano was a little easier. As we came down the other side of the mountain, new views of the river Arno were thrown before us. The river would more or less be our path and point of reference for the duration of the journey.

As we stroll through the wider paths of our descent we enjoyed the glorious silence which surrounded us, only occasionally interrupted by mountain bikers zooming past at a stomach churning pace. Although we were starting to tire, we remained content, happy in the tranquillity of the Italian countryside and the company of friends.

At last we arrived in Vicopisano, we had just enough water to get over the mountain and needed to restock in a nearby cafe before we began the final slog of the journey towards our villa; Villa Maria, and its pool,  a further 3km from our current location. With tired bodies and our feet on fire, we couldn’t get there soon enough!

When we got to the villa we were met by a very friendly man whose English was about as good as my Italian. Luckily we stumbled through the check-in process and were shown around. Our room was lovely, light and airy with beds for all 4 of us – Just what we needed.

After dumping our packs it was clothes off and straight to the pool. It was about 6pm by now and the temperature had just started to drop. I dipped my toe in the pool and thought twice about it: it was freezing! However, with goading from our friendly receptionist “an Italian man would just jump straight in”, I played straight into his hands and, much to the amusement of everyone, dived straight into the freezing pool. It felt amazing. Needless to say I didn’t stay in the water long.

That evening we walked about 1KM up the road from our villa to a great pizzeria called Chez Mes Amis. We found the restaurant and as promised the wine was cheap, the food was great and the service even better. We ate as much as we possibly could and were given a box to take our leftover pizza away in. Although the place looked a little tatty from the outside, it really was a hidden gem. We finished our wine, and pizzas in hand we headed on the last 1km of the day. Hopefully tomorrow we’d wake in a better state than we had that morning.

Hear about the next half of our exciting adventure next week, we’ll be walking Italian, talking Italian and eating Italian as we finish our epic quest. 

Part 2 now available Here

Tobias’ Vegetarian Saag Aloo (Chicken Optional)

Hey all, I’m back! I’ve been off grid for a couple of months, and with very good reason. After 4 years of me living under a garage and Hannah living with her parents, we finally bought our first house together. We’ve spent a lot of time decorating and building a huge batch of IKEA furniture. We like the simple Scandi look and that’s reflected in our home. I’ve spent a lot of time re-purposing and painting old wooden furniture to keep costs as low as possible and just haven’t had time to write.

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I have, however, managed plenty of cooking. Batch cooking is my thing, and the freezer is already full of home-made ready meals for two.

Moving house meant moving towns, not far, but I no longer live within walking distance of my favourite Indian restaurant, Maya, in Great Torrington. I’ve felt lost without easy access to my favourite chicken saag or saag aloo, so I decided to have a go at making one myself. I was so happy with the results that I had to share. So here is my first new dish, prepared in our new place. It’s cheap, healthy and tastes amazing. It also works just fine with chicken if you just can’t bear a meal with no meat, but I recommend trying it without.

Serves 4 – 5

Ingredients:

  • 400 – 500g Diced, Boiled Potato
  • 300g Chopped Frozen Spinach
  • 1 Med Onion
  • 1 Desert Spoon of Tomato Puree
  • 3 Cloves Crushed Garlic
  • 1 Tspn Crushed Ginger
  • 1 Tspn Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 Tspn Coriander Seeds
  • 1 Tspn Tumeric
  • 1 and 1/2 Tspn Crushed Chillies
  • 1/2 Cup Natural Yoghurt

Method:

  1. Boil spinach until most of the water is gone and set aside.
  2. Saute onions + Cooked Potato for 3 minutes then add Garlic, Ginger and Tomato Puree and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  3. Add dry spices, stir for even coverage and cook for another few minutes stirring continuously until fragrant.
  4. Add the Spinach and stir over medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes.
  5. Salt to taste then stir in the Natural Yoghurt a little at a time.
  6. Serve with rice, white rice boiled in water with a teaspoon of Tumeric goes great with this dish.

If you are going to add chicken, cook it off before step 1, then add step 1 to your pan.

There you have it, quick, easy, tasty and healthy.

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Now for my cost breakdown, and this one is going to be cheap! All prices are based on the current prices from the Tesco online shop, we are a 3 minute walk from a Tesco now, so to save jumping in the car, we’ll likely use it a lot.

 

  • 400 – 500g Diced, Boiled Potato – 1/2 1kg £1 bag – 50p
  • 300g Chopped Frozen Spinach – 1/3 900g £1.40 bag – 50p
  • 1 Med Onion – 16p
  • 1/2 Cup Natural Yoghurt – About 1/3 500g 45p Tub – 15p

Spices are something that keep for ages in the cupboard and one pot will be enough for tens of dishes, All of these spices and flavours are under £1 and will last for a number of dishes so i tend not to include them in my price list, but it’s safe to assume you will use around £1 worth of spices on this dish.

 

  • 1 Desert Spoon of Tomato Puree
  • 3 Cloves Crushed Garlic
  • 1 Tspn Crushed Ginger
  • 1 Tspn Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 Tspn oriander Seeds
  • 1 Tspn Tumeric
  • 1 and 1/2 Tspn Crushed Chillies

So including your spice mix at around £1, this dish comes in at just shy of £2.50, that’s a whopping 50p per portion!

Hopefully once Hannah and I are settled in our new home I will get to writing much more often. Look out for my next post coming soon. In the mean time, big shout out to all of our friends and family that have helped us pack, move, clean, paint and build furniture, without you wonderful people this would have been impossible.

 

 

A weekend in Basel, Switzerland

Why Basel?

A few months ago I planned to go walking in Tuscany with friends because I’d never really been on a lads holiday before. The cheapest flights for that fell on a Saturday and Thursday, so I decided it’d be a good idea to have the Friday off. As I wasn’t going to see Hannah for nearly a week, and the Friday fell on my birthday I decided to have a look on the easyJet website and figure out what were the cheapest flights to anywhere. I wasn’t fussy and I didn’t mind not knowing a lot about where I was going. It was quite some trek I had planned with my friends, so having no real plans other than eating and drinking when I got there was quite appealing! I expected I’d be aching a bit. Ideally I wanted to fly from Bristol, as this is my closest airport with a good choice of routes. When I looked I found flights to Basel in Switzerland for £55 return per person. All I needed now was a hotel and after searching for an hour or so on all the usual suspects, hotels.com, travelsupermarket, trivago, Expedia, lastminute, I found the ibis budget Basel City for £110 for the 2 nights on hotels.com, better still, with the hotels.com reward scheme for every 10 rooms you book with them, you get one free, so that was me another 5th of the way to a free stay. Now, ibis budget hotels aren’t by any means a luxury, but they are modern, clean with reasonable facilities and good service as standard, so we went for it! I only booked it a month in advance and it was £110 each for 48 hours away.

The first afternoon.

When I returned from Italy on Thursday night I was as exhausted as I thought I would be, I had aching muscles and blisters. Though my trip was definitely worth it, I was excited for a relaxed birthday weekend with Hannah. Hannah picked me up from my place at 8am, in all of the fun of being away I had totally forgotten it was my birthday, but she wouldn’t let me forget it, I think she gets more excited than me for my birthday. We headed for Bristol airport, only a couple of hours up the road, after breakfast and a coffee our flight was on time. When we arrived in Basel we headed straight for the bus, I’d already checked which bus we wanted, the 50 to Basel SBB railway station, 1 way tickets were about 4 Swiss Francs, around £3 and need to be validated in the ticket machine before you get on the bus. A short 15 minute ride to the centre and I get my trusty google maps out to help us find the hotel, 9 minutes walk apparently, but as I explained earlier, my legs weren’t up to much so it took nearly 15. When we arrived at the nice modern Ibis, we were checked in and handed our key card along with a free travel pass for the entirety of our stay, an absolutely fantastic bonus considering I couldn’t walk and the whole city was covered by tram, and as a boy from Devon who hadn’t seen a tram until he was in his 20’s (thank you Toby and Immy in Nottingham), I bloody love trams.

A quick freshen up and it was time to head out, we were a 2 minute walk from the Grosspeterstrasse stop, which was more of a grass verge. I had heard of a cool cocktail bar at the top of the Messe tower, Bar Rouge, the highest bar in Basel, so we jumped on the 15 to Messeplatz and sure enough we were greeted by a very tall tower. The bar was marked by a couple of flags in one corner, quite understatedly saying “Bar Rouge”. As we go inside it almost feels too easy, like, are we missing something and should we even be here, two men in uniform say to us “if you are looking for bar rouge take that elevator to floor 31”, we oblige and as we zoom up the floors I feel quite excited. We step out of the elevator into what is already a bustling and atmospheric bar, then we see it, all of it, the entire cityscape, it was beautiful. What a setting for my first birthday drink. Luckily we spot a seat at the bar and we are immediately met by Manuel the barkeeper. Drinks were pricey, wine wasn’t too bad at 8 – 10 CHF, not too much more than a restaurant in England, but cocktails were around 15.

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Hannah saw the bar man skewering marshmallows, one of her favourites, so we asked what they were going to be a garnish for. Now, Hannah only likes alcohol if it tastes like sweets, luckily the answer was an Amaretto sour, so one of those and a white wine it was, with the best view in Basel. Having arrived only a couple of hours ago, and this being our first stop, it was quite nice that our first look at the city was from above. Hannah’s cocktail arrived along with the wine I ordered. The cocktail was so good I decided I’d be trying one later. Manuel was one of the best barman we’ve met, he made us feel welcome, chatting and joking and was generally very good at his job, a short while later i asked for a cocktail, simply explaining that i like citrus and gin, one of the other barmen made me something spectacular, based around a Tom Collins, Hannah told Manuel she only likes sweet drinks so he came up with an amazingly sweet watermelon cocktail just before coming over with a shot of chocolate liquor and 2 shots of Jagermeister, a toast to my birthday, slightly worried I was going to wind up hammered too early, I knocked mine back. We could have spent the rest of the evening in there quite happily but we had become hungry so decided to head to a restaurant I’d heard great things about, 5 Signori. We headed back to Messeplatz tram station and jumped back on the 15 to Basel Tellplatz, which is right by the restaurant. We entered the stylish restaurant and received a warm welcome from friendly staff. It wasn’t a silver service kind of restaurant but it was certainly clear that the staff knew what they were doing, incredibly attentive and useful, happy to make suggestions on wines etc. The food was reasonably pricey, but then everywhere seemed to be, besides, it was my birthday. I decided on the sautéed whitefish with franciacorta sauce, leeks and sliced potato, Hannah had the red wine risotto. While we waited we were brought a delicious fish appetizer and shortly afterwards our food arrived. It was incredible, the fish cooked to perfection, and Hannah’s risotto which of course i tried, was so rich in flavour, it was certainly worth the price. I knew that the owners of 5 Signori also owned a cool cocktail bar called Werk 8 nearby, so when we were offered dessert, i explained that we were going to head over to Werk 8 to have a birthday drink instead, the waiter promptly brought over a voucher for us to get 60% off of our first drinks, which considering the price of drinks out there was excellent. It must have been about 10pm by this point, the temperature had dropped suddenly, i offered Hannah my jacket and we walked to Werk 8, just a few hundred metres up the road. In the near distance we could hear music and a crowd and it dawned on me the place was huge, it is basically a massive bar in an old warehouse, with full height warehouse ceilings. The design was rough and industrial but obviously well thought out, the bar’s offices were visible at one end, set into stacked shipping containers with a perspex front, the bar backed by a huge sheet of deliberately rusted metal with “Werk 8” written in large metal letters in the middle.

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We found ourselves a seat, which was surprisingly difficult considering the size of the place, we had obviously stumbled upon a gem enjoyed by a mass of locals. I ordered our first drinks and handed over the vouchers we were given, 10CHF for 2 drinks felt a lot better. This cocktail bar is definitely worth visiting, an amazing range of drinks, including something I’d not tried before, a beer cocktail which included slow gin and tasted great. After a couple of drinks here i checked how far we were from the hotel, just an 8 minute walk, so at around 11.3opm we headed back. It was at this point i had realised that i was quite drunk, perhaps the bar staff round here are quite liberal with their measures! I suppose I’ll have to wait until the morning to find out.

Day Two.

So, it turns out that the places we were drinking were very liberal with their measures, it probably didn’t help my case flitting between white wine and cocktails all night, but needless to say i woke up feeling somewhat fragile. Some food and a coffee were very much-needed. As we knew that Basel was on the Swiss / German / French border, i really fancied taking a morning just to have a coffee and a bite to eat in each country, so we headed for the Rhein Centre which is just over the German border. We jumped on the 15 tram again, and had to change to the 8 for Weil Am Rhein at Basel Bankverein, i was desperate by this point so i grabbed us both a much needed coffee at a nearby food stall before we jumped on the 8. As we pulled up at Marktplatz on the tram we saw a lovely food market, we quickly decided to take a detour and have a look around, we jumped off and i was greeted by the glorious aroma of freshly cooked wurst. My face lit up, breakfast was served, Hannah found a nice pastry stall while i waited for my wurst to be cooked, served with a lump of bread and a dollop of mustard, much like i remember it being served in Prague, this rather large sausage was exactly what i needed. We spent half an hour wandering around, immersed in a bustling mix of German, French and Italian language, I’d never been anywhere with so many languages firing at me at once, it was exciting, yet at the same time i felt warm and relaxed, exactly what i wanted from this holiday.

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We jumped back on the 8 and headed over the border. We found a coffee shop right on the river and had our first ever coffee on German soil, i know i cant exactly call it doing Germany, but I’ll take it for the time being. A quick trip over the Passerelle des trois pres and we were in France! Just over the bridge we saw a lovely looking cafe and wine bar called La Huninguoise wine bar and tea room. Still a little fragile I skipped the wine and went for a coffee, a water and a croque Monsieur. The food and coffee were lovely and the waitress made every effort to try to understand our English and broken French.


Our enjoyable morning activity of visiting three countries in a couple of hours was coming to an end and we headed back towards Marktplatz on the No.8 Tram.

From here we decided to have a walk around part of the city, taking in the beautiful Rathaus building, painted in a deep red and over looking the quaint market place, heading around to Mittler Brucke and turning right towards Munster Platz just before the bridge. As we approached Munster Platz down a pretty street that looked like everything you’d imagine a cutesy Swiss street to be we heard the hustle and bustle of Mondfest, a lovely bonus to our trip of Chinese dancing, music and street food. Just beyond this we saw the incredible Basler Munster church, previously a Catholic Cathedral and now a reformed Protestant church. It’s impressive roof made up of intricate patterned red, green and yellow tiles could be seen from across the city and form one of the city’s major landmarks.

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As you walk through the church you come to pfalz, which was one of my favourite vantage points for glorious vistas up and down the Rhine. We wandered around to Wettsteinbrucke, and crossed the bridge to the other side of the water, from the bridge you can take a few nice photos, looking back up the river to the more picturesque Mittler Brucke. As we came over the river we saw a couple of men sat drying themselves down after a morning of water sports, the river seemed so alive with people as we wandered down its banks, you couldn’t help but get a feel for it’s important role in the heart of Basel’s economic and cultural history. The slow onset of hunger began to return and a brief reminder of my previous nights drinking reared its ugly head. It was about time that I fed the beast once more. It was getting a bit late for lunch so we decided to go for something light. Fortunately we stumbled across Consum, a wine bar with a cheese and cooked meats speciality menu and thought that it was would be a good place to stop. We shared a delicious selection of salami and cheese, a few boiled potatoes with chutney and honey mustard dip, all for a very reasonable price. The staff knew plenty about what they were serving too, explaining what each cheese and meat was and where it was from as they laid down the dishes, a great addition to the service in any restaurant or bar. Consum was run by the hotel, Krafft, which was directly opposite us and looked lovely. I’d definitely consider it if we came to Basel again. We headed back to Marktplatz via Mittler Brucke, the oldest and most beautiful bridge connecting the two sides of the river in Basel. It’s not a big city and this little walk, food and pictures included took just a few hours, and we were on the go slow. From Marktplatz we jumped another tram and headed back to the hotel, I needed a nap and Hannah want to change into something nice for the evening.

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Whilst in Bar Rouge the night before we had asked a few people where we could get something quite traditional to eat. We had two or three different places suggested, but the main one for a good old cheese fondue appeared to be Walliser Kanne, and we had to get fondue, I think this is what Hannah had most been looking forward to, and I could see from their menu that they did a good selection of Wurst and Weiner Schnitzel so it was a win win really.

After a quick rest at the hotel, we headed back out to Walliser Kanne, the building that housed the restaurant was beautiful and old, we didn’t see much of it as we were seated relatively near the door, not to far from where the Weiner schnitzel is cooked right before your eyes. Having browsed the menu I could see that it was about the most expensive thing on there so instead I opted for a more modest Wurst with Rosti and onions, Hannah, needless to say, had the cheese fondue. The drinks in here were somewhat better value for money, a half sized bottle of wine wasn’t any more than it would be in a restaurant back home so that was a bonus. As the preparations were made for Hannah’s fondue, we could see that she was in for a treat, a small mountain of bread cubes were laid next to a trangia like flaming hob, quickly followed by a caquelon of bubbling cheese. It was a cheese lovers dream, my wurst came out, rosti half the size of a plate included.The food was just fantastic, I ploughed through what was one of the nicest rostis I’d ever eaten and managed to help Hannah with her fondue, even between us we were unable to finish this melting pot of splendour!

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As we left we decided it would be a good idea to head back to the hotel, it was nearly 11pm after all, we stopped past a corner shop to grab some elderflower Fanta, which seems to be popping up all over europe and is amazing by the way, then headed to bed.

The final morning.

We woke up a little earlier this morning just so that we could have a nice walk around, I grabbed us a coffee from the hotel lobby while Hannah got herself ready, and by 9.30am we were heading into town, as it was a Sunday, there were fewer trams, but we still weren’t waiting long. As we approached Marktplatz we came to realise that the Basel marathon was on, and sure enough, a few hundred enthusiastic runners came hurtling up the street towards us, it was nice to see this sort of thing happening, and it does make you realise the sheer scale of the London marathon. As we walked towards the river we realised most places were closed, luckily for us we stumbled upon a little gem, Confiserie Bachmann, right opposite the lavish looking Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, which i can only assume was massively out of our price radar by the buildings extravagant facade and its location on the banks of the river, nevertheless it is a useful landmark. The cafe had an array of pastries and chocolate that made Hannah’s eyes light up, now I’m more of a hot brunch kind of guy but i couldn’t deny her, so we stopped in for a coffee and Hannah had her pastry, which i was informed was one of the best she’d had, and trust me, that’s no small measure, this girl has packed away the pastry in every city we have ever been to. Once we left here we walked up to Barfusserplatz where there was a large gathering, possibly the finish line of the marathon, luckily for me there were stalls all around selling Wurst of all shapes and sizes.

With  my need for yet more sausage met, we realised time had run away from us, but we still had just over an hour and an unlimited tram ticket, so i decided to direct us towards the very old St Alban’s area, the original industrial heartland of Basel. The number 3 tram takes you straight from Barfusserplatz to St Alban-Tor. It’s a beautiful part of town occupied by some of the most picturesque buildings from Basel’s industrial past. The beautiful paper mill is now a museum and shop and the water wheel is still working. If you love old buildings it’s worth popping over, with a little more time I’d like to have explored some more. Unfortunately our time in Basel had come to an end, we headed back to collect our bags and make for the airport. As it turned out our travel card also got us a free ride to the airport on the 50 bus from outside central station.

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I loved the vibe in Basel, surprisingly trendy, excitingly multicultural and steeped in history it was just the place to recover for the weekend. Nothing felt too fast paced and there wasnt so much to see that I felt I had to rush everywhere. It’s somewhere I’d definitely recommend, especially at the price easyJet seem to knock out tickets.

If you’re heading to Basel I hope you take inspiration from our experiences, check out the websites for the places mentioned by clicking on their names if they are blue, most of all, have fun!

Tobias’ Fiskesuppe (Norwegian Fish Soup)

Back in Feb / March, Hannah and I took a trip to some of the Scandinavian capital cities, we fell in love with the architecture, design, art, people and most of all the food, as you can see in my previous recipe for Swedish Meatballs.

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Whilst in Oslo we stayed in the fantastic Frogner House Apartments, the apartment was absolutely beautiful, spacious and most importantly one of the most cost effective forms of accommodation we could find in the city. On one of our days out, we visited the National Gallery to see The Scream by Edvard Munch, for some reason it was free entry on that day, we’re not sure why but obviously there were no complaints from us, totally worth a visit if you can. We also caught Madonna and The Kiss in the Munch museum which was, again, free when we visited. It was a great day out, I love Munch’s work but as the day got late the hunger started to set in.

As usual, food had been on our minds most of the day. We had asked a few locals where we might find some of the best traditional food in Oslo, the answers from most included Lorry a traditional restaurant near Det Kongelige Slott. Here we had, for the second time on our trip, the fish soup. It was fantastic, both of the fish soups we had tried were slightly different, as with any local dish, each chef has their own take, and it was something so good that we decided i ought to try it at home too.

It was a few months until i got round to cooking this dish at home, but after researching a number of recipes and after a couple of attempts, i had figured out what i wanted to make, so here is my take on a Norwegian Fiskesuppe, it’s easy and quick to make and makes you feel really Hygge. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do! This recipe serves 4 – 5.

Ingredients:

  • 500g Diced Potato
  • 1 med onion finely chopped
  • 2 med carrots chopped into matchsticks
  • 1ltr fish stock
  • 250ml single cream
  • 1 tablespoon of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 400g of fish pie mix
  • 130g of king prawns
  • a few sprigs of chopped parsley
  • salt an pepper

Method:

  1. Bring stock to the boil, add veg + parsley, simmer for 10 minutes
  2. Whisk the  flour into the cream
  3. After 10 mins add the cream to the soup and bring to the boil
  4. Add the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper bit by bit to taste
  5. Add the fish pie mix and simmer for 4 minutes.
  6. Add the prawns and simmer for a further 4 minutes.
  7. Serve in a bowl with a sprig of parsley and some crusty bread.

It’s as easy as that, this dish is best served straight away, a perfect hearty winter warmer for you, just in time for the temperature dropping and the days drawing in. It’s all well and good but how much does this cost i hear you ask, here’s the breakdown:

 

  • 500g Diced Baby Potato (1/2 1kg pack) – 50p
  • 1 med onion finely chopped – 16p
  • 2 med carrots chopped into matchsticks – 12p
  • 1ltr fish stock (Tesco stockpot x4, only 2 required) – 90p
  • 250ml single cream (300ml pack) – 80p
  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (350ml bottle) – 80p
  • 400g of fish pie mix – £3
  • 130g of king prawns – £1.90

I’ve left out the plain flour, sugar, salt and pepper, as these are all standard cupboard ingredients, I’ve also left out parsley as i have my own herb garden, which is a really cheap way of always having a selection of herbs, it’s also kind of fun!

All prices are what i paid in Tesco on the day of purchase to within a few pence. All in, based on 4 people eating this dish, it comes in at £8.18, that is just over £2 per person! Luxury food at bargain prices.

Coming soon will be my posts on my walk from Pisa to Florence and my birthday weekend in Basel, but for now, enjoy another recipe and don’t forget to tell me what you think!

 

Tobias’ Melt In The Middle Meatballs

I’ve spent a lot of the last month walking along our local foot and cycle path the Tarka Trail in order to prepare myself for my lads holiday walking from Pisa to Florence in Tuscany in a couple of weeks. It’s a beautiful path, easily accessible from all of our local towns and at just over 30 miles, it’s a good distance to walk over a couple of days. Below is the view of Bideford coming back from Instow.

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Our preparation culminated in a 26m walk from Great Torrington to Fremington and back on bank holiday Monday. It was killer, we were stiff, but we did it and we recovered within a day, so we know we should be ok. I also joined Hannah’s family for a coastal walk from Brownsham to Clovelly the weekend before, which has some of the best coastal views in the country as seen below.

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A few weeks back, Hannah and I were doing a neat little 10 mile walk from Great Torrington to Yarde Cafe  and back, whilst talking about food, as we often do, Hannah said, “Wouldnt it be great if you could have melt in the middle meatballs”. I’d not really thought about it before, but it seemed possible so that week we had a go, and they worked really well. Having tried them a few more times, i made a couple of tweaks to the recipe and now it’s ready for me to share with the world. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Ingredients:

  • 375g Lean Beef Mince
  • 125g Pork Mince
  • 1 mozzarella ball
  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 1 egg
  • 2 medium onions
  • 40g of grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • 1 carton passata
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 100ml water

Method

  1. To prepare, turn the oven to 200’C, grate the onion, crush the garlic, chop the herbs and break the slices of bread to pieces before blending to make breadcrumbs.
  2. Mix beef and pork mince with breadcrumbs, egg, grated onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl using hands to ensure all is thoroughly mixed.
  3. Separate into 8 equal portions.
  4. Chop mozzarella ball into 8 equal pieces.
  5. Take 1 portion of meatball mix and flatten into a slightly cupped hand, place a piece of mozzarella in the center and close the mix around it until completely sealed. Repeat for all 8 balls.
  6. Seal each meatball on a high heat in a frying pan.
  7. Spread the meatballs out evenly in a deep baking dish and put in the oven for 25 minutes.
  8. While the meatballs are in the oven, pour out passata into a jug, add salt, pepper, basil and 100ml of water.
  9. Take meatballs out of the oven and pour over tomato sauce, place back in the oven for 20 minutes.

Serve with spaghetti, tagliatelle or similar. I like to sprinkle any parmesan i have left over the top. For an extra bit of flavour, wrap each meatball in a slice of prosciutto ham.

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This recipe serves 4, so lets break down what it costs per portion. I have a herb garden so always have access to fresh rosemary, basil and thyme and most of you will have the dried versions in the cupboard if needed so i havent included these, salt or pepper.

 

  • 375g Lean Beef Mince (1/2 750g pack) – £1.75
  • 125g Pork Mince (1/2 250g pack) – 65p
  • 1 mozerella ball – 50p
  • 4 slices of white sandwhich bread – 40p for loaf
  • 1 egg – £1 (half-dozen)
  • 2 medium onions – £1
  • 40g of grated parmesan cheese – £1.20 (60g)
  • 2 cloves of garlic – 30p
  • 1 carton passata – 50p
  • Spaghetti – 85p
  • Prosciutto – £3.00 (optional)

Not including the Prosciutto, which is totally optional, it totals at £8.15, that’s just over £2 per portion! Not bad at all.

Me and the guys walk from Pisa to Florence in a couple of weeks so look out for my post about that shortly afterwards and find up to date pics of my walks and travels on Our Facebook Page. Until then, enjoy the recipe!

 

Tobias’ Beef Bourguignon 

At the beginning of 2015 I took Hannah to rainy Paris for her 21st birthday, we stayed in a really cute hotel called First Hotel Paris, which we would absolutely stay at again, I called ahead, of course, to make sure they knew we were staying for a 21st birthday and thanks to this we got a room upgrade with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It is usually well worth letting any hotel know if you are visiting them for a special occasion, you will often get a free treat. In other hotels we have had cakes, wine, room upgrades and more. We usually go away on our birthdays because it’s out of season, and we can call our holidays birthday presents to each other instead of buying expensive gifts. As we always do, while we were there we made it our mission to eat some proper homely French food. Our favourite French food quickly became Beouf Bourguignon. Rich and beefy it suited our taste down to the ground.

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Before i go into the recipe, it’s worth noting that while we were in Paris, as my main present to Hannah, what with it being her 21st and all, we had dinner for 2 in 58 Tour Eiffel. 58 Tour Eiffel is a restaurant on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. It was especially out of my comfort zone because I had never been to a restaurant that requires smart dress, I spent the months before we left buying leather shoes, a jacket, trousers and a nice shirt discretely without Hannah noticing as it was a surprise that we were even going to Paris. As it happens, when we got there i realised that trousers and a shirt would have been fine and they just didn’t want jeans and t-shirts. Though it was nice to feel smart and make the effort, after all, it was only 3 years prior to this that I could barely afford to make us a pasta bake for 2 in my room in a shared house. I went for the middle price option on the 9pm sitting, I’d recommend this if you can afford it as you get a glass of champagne on arrival and a glass of wine with each course. Plus you get a seat pretty darned close to the window, certainly close enough for the whole experience to be magical. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a budget experience, but for a once in a life time treat on a special occasion, I couldn’t recommend it more. There is a cheaper lunch time option too, you can find all of the menu options on their website. When we ate there, a smoked salmon and caviar starter, followed by braised ox cheek with a fantastic cheese board was my menu of choice. Hannah went for quail as her main. For me, it was the best meal out I’ve ever had, a combination of emotions probably helped seal the deal, for one, we were inside the Eiffel Tower, actually in it, looking out over Paris. My brain was struggling to process that whilst enjoying the look of happiness on Hannah’s face. I felt quite emotional to think of how far we had come. So luckily for 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant, they’d have struggled to screw it up. Thanks to the staff we felt special, and despite my worries, not even a little out of place.

The reason I mentioned the Eiffel Tower, is because firstly, I’d love for anyone reading to have the same experience, and secondly because to tell you that Beef Bourguignon was the second best meal we had out in Paris probably wouldn’t have made much sense as a statement out of context. We had this dish twice while we were there, once with the inclusion of potatoes and once without. My version of the recipe includes potatoes, because this way it can work as a stand alone meal, and to cook the potatoes in with the dish gives them an incredible flavour you just wouldn’t get when cooking them as a side. This is what I like to call an all in one dish, with about 15 minutes prep time and 4 hours cooking time. It’s a case of getting everything chopped and ready, putting it in a dish, and more or less leaving it alone, low effort, huge effect. This is the perfect dish for dinner parties as you can prepare it on mass and in advance. The best thing about this dish, is the glass of wine you have left over to enjoy while you’re cooking, I’m a firm believer in having a glass during cooking time!

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This recipe will serve 6, especially with a nice chunk of bread on the side.

Ingredients:

  • 600g Diced Beef
  • 140g Diced Pancetta
  • 800g Baby Potatoes
  • 200g Chestnut Mushrooms
  • 300g Shallots
  • 600ml Pinot Noir Red Wine or similar
  • 350ml Beef Stock
  • 2 Cloves Garlic (crushed)
  • 8 Sprigs of Thyme
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Heaped Tablespoon of Flour
  • Salt + Pepper

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Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 140’C
  2. Cut baby potatoes into quarters, halve the chestnut onions and slice shallots into rings.
  3. Place these ingredients into a large casserole dish along with the diced beef, pancetta, salt and pepper.
  4. Sprinkle a heaped tablespoon of flour over the ingredients and mix them with your hands until well covered.
  5. Pour over the wine and stock.
  6. Add thyme and bay leaves then stir.
  7. Place the lid on your casserole dish and put the dish in the oven for 4 hours, stirring every hour or so.
  8. Check one of the potatoes to make sure it’s nice and soft, if not, return to oven until cooked through, ovens can vary slightly.

Once your beef bourgignon is cooked, allow to stand for 15 minutes before pulling out any sprigs of thyme you can find and your bay leaves. Serve with some nice crusty bread of your choice. Allow dish to cool almost completely before refrigerating or freezing portions. Enjoy!

Now for the financial bit, what did this lovely dish cost to make? I hear you ask! Here’s the cost breakdown, but don’t forget, the amount of beef, pancetta, potatoes and mushrooms can be altered by about 25%, I’ve based my recipe on the pack sizes available to me on the day of purchase, but if you’re a little short or over on something, don’t panic! I’m going to work on the assumption you already have beef stock cubes or pots, garlic, flour, salt and pepper. These are all cupboard stock items that need to be bought once in a while and are reasonable inexpensive. All costs are taken from the Morrisons website

 

600g Diced Beef – 2 x 300g – £4

140g Diced Pancetta – £1.73

800g Baby Potatoes – 1kg – £1

200g Chestnut Mushrooms – 250g – £1

300g Shallots – Morrisons signature shallots 300g – £1

600ml Pinot Noir Red Wine or similar – Nederburg 56 hundred pinot noir – £5 (I only used this wine because it was on offer for a fiver, realistically you can use any red wine you like, i was advised pinot noir and stuck with it)

8 Sprigs of Thyme – Fresh cut thyme 31g – 72p

2 Bay Leaves – 3g – 67p

All in this recipe will serve 6 for just under £15, make the recipe stretch to 8 with a few more potatoes, either way you are in the region of £2 to £2.50 a portion for what makes for an incredible meal! If you’re doing a dinner party, it’s the perfect tasty dish, and don’t forget, always tell your guests to bring a bottle, you are cooking after all!

Please email me the pictures of your attempt and we’ll post some of them on our Facebook page.

 

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